Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Though the press remains vibrant, the Cambodian media environment deteriorated in 2007 as censorship and attacks on the press increased, leading at least two journalists to flee the country during the year out of fear for their safety. The constitution guarantees the right to free expression and a free press, and although the 1995 Press Law also theoretically protects press freedom, the government has used it to censor stories deemed to undermine political stability. Under Article 12, the employer, editor, or author of an article may be subject to a fine of 5 million to 15 million riels (US$1,282–US$3,846). The law also gives the Ministries of Information and the Interior the right to confiscate or suspend a publication for 30 days and transfer the case to court. Article 13 states that the press shall not publish or reproduce false information that humiliates or is in contempt of national institutions. According to the U.S. State Department, in December 2007, the Ministry of Information (MOI) issued a directive reasserting these restrictions and prohibiting the publication of stories that defame government leaders or institutions. In May 2006, the National Assembly dropped criminal charges for defamation, though civil suits with potentially onerous fines remain in law, as does potential imprisonment for the charge of “spreading disinformation.” An estimated seven defamation suits were filed by government officials against journalists during 2007, including three against the Sralanh Khmer newspaper. In addition, at least one criminal case of disinformation was filed in Phnom Penh against the editor of the Samleng Yuveachun Khmer, a paper associated with the party of former prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, over an article alleging that the municipal governor had sold City Hall to developers. The journalist paid US$500 in bail in November, and the case was still pending at the end of the year.
Press coverage is vigorous, and journalists regularly expose official corruption and scrutinize the government. Partly for this reason, attacks against the press and censorship increased in 2007 after a lull in recent years. These were to a large extent related to the publication in May of a report by the London-based organization Global Witness, accusing individuals close to Prime Minister Hun Sen of involvement in illegal logging. In early June, the MOI ordered the confiscation of print copies of the report and directed newspapers to cease reproducing its contents. A news editor of the French-language daily Cambodge Soir was fired several days later, after the paper continued to reprint the report. One of the paper’s owners then announced the its closure, sparking a strike by its staff and an outcry from international press freedom groups. The situation was somewhat resolved through mediation by the International Organization of La Francophonie, which partially funds the paper, and it was relaunched in October 2007 as a weekly publication, but with approximately half the previous staff. Journalists from other publications who sought to further investigate deforestation also reported being harassed. In June, three journalists reported being beaten at gunpoint by a local official’s bodyguard in Pursat province, and Lem Piseth, a reporter for Radio Free Asia (RFA), fled to Thailand for several weeks after receiving death threats. Several other attacks and acts of censorship were reported during the year, including a verbal attack by the prime minister against RFA reporter Um Sarim that was rebroadcast over national television, leading the journalist to flee the country for several weeks. In October, the MOI suspended Khmer Amatak, a pro-opposition newspaper, for one month after it refused to publish a “correction” the ministry had requested. In November, the authorities seized 2,000 copies of the debut issue of a foreign-funded magazine called Free Press, reportedly because of contents deemed insulting to the king. The publication’s editor and distribution director subsequently went into hiding.
Journalists from more than 20 Khmer-language publications aligned with or subsidized by various political factions are unbridled in criticizing their adversaries and public officials but generally do not criticize the king. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and its alternating coalition partners, the royalist party Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party, each has its own newspaper. However, the government dominates both radio and television, the main media sources for the two-thirds of the population that are functionally illiterate, and broadcast programming generally reflects official viewpoints. Independent broadcast outlets’ operations are constrained by the government’s refusal to allocate radio and television frequencies to stations that are aligned with the opposition. This was evident in September 2007 when the MOI refused to issue a broadcasting license to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights for its Voice of Democracy radio station, though the previous month it had awarded a license to a CPP official to open a new Phnom Penh station. Nevertheless, alternative news sources are available through RFA, Voice of America, and Voice of Democracy programming aired by several local radio stations. According to a 2006 survey by InterMedia, over 30 percent of the population listens regularly to RFA, including 56 percent of those living in proximity to Phnom Penh. The economy is not strong enough to generate sufficient advertising revenues to support truly neutral or independent media. Access to the internet is generally unrestricted, although owing to infrastructure and economic constraints, less than 0.5 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2007.